LIVERMORE -- For years, Livermore residents like Don Dowdle have enjoyed the three acres of grassy lawn near the Ironwood Apartments as a place to walk dogs, fly kites and have picnics.
Dowdle and some neighbors fear all that may change if plans by Acacia Capital Corp., the property's owner, are approved.
The San Mateo-based developer is proposing to expand the complex at East Avenue and Charlotte Way by 52 units. The expansion would require constructing four new three-story buildings, covering two of the three acres of open space.
A group of residents -- a mix of apartment tenants and nearby neighbors that call themselves "Save Ironwood," say the green space is required as part of a zoning agreement between the original developers and the city. They intend to voice their concerns at the next planning commission meeting on Tuesday.
Dowdle, who lives near the unofficial park, organized the group after attending public meetings the developer held in May and October. He also generated a petition, which he says has more than 300 signatures.
"I was bothered by the attitude by Acacia that this was their place and they could do what they wanted with it," Dowdle said. "The reality is that this is a city-mandated green space."
Winston Andrews, a neighbor and member of the group, says that if the project is approved, it could set an "ugly precedent."
"I worry we're going down a slippery slope," he said. "Open space is like an endangered species; once it's gone, it's gone."
Formerly known as Rhonewood Apartments, the two-story, 240-unit complex was developed in 1972. According to planner Ben Murray, the planning department has no records left from the original approval. He said the new proposal -- submitted Aug. 1 -- includes a zoning change request that would increase the land's density and require less open space. The planning commission, he said, will hold future public meetings on the proposal as part of the review process.
Acacia purchased the complex from Prometheus Real Estate Group in 2010. Acacia's vice president, Jeff Ratto, said the proposal has been in the works for the past year and added that the company is working with the city to address the residents' concerns.
"We would like to expand the Ironwood apartment community, and we want to go about it in the most practical and sensible way," Ratto said. "We thought we were going about it the right way, but in the past month, it seems like everything's changed."
The plans include adding 30 parking spaces and an exit onto East Avenue, but neighbors say it won't be enough to handle more vehicles, which already line the roadside along Norma Way.
Carol Garberson, another nearby resident, said the piece of land has "become like a city park." She worries about the impact of increased traffic on the safety of students coming from Arroyo Seco Elementary School.
"With as many apartments as they have now, the parking is terrible," she said. "There are so many people and kids, and the visibility is really poor."
Ratto said the company will hold another public workshop at a future date, sending notices to people living further away from the complex.
"We're responsible landowners," Ratto said. "We don't intend to do anything to cause problems with the neighborhood."
What: Livermore Planning Commission meeting
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Livermore City Council chambers, 3575 Pacific Ave.